Birding in Magoebaskloof and Haenertsburg area

Birding is one of those exciting activities where the whole family can participate.  The areas around Haenertsburg and Magoebaskloof is ideal for birding and offer some wonderful birding routes and sites for experienced and amateur birders.

Birding in the Haenertsburg Grasslands

The Louis Changuion Trail
In the Village the Louis Changuion trail meanders though the Haenertsburg grasslands and is very popular with birders and walkers. A map of the trail is available at most of the businesses in the Village.  Located in one of South Africa’s most threatened vegetation types, the Louis Changuion hiking trail takes walkers through Woodbush Granite Grasslands and patches of indigenous forest.  Colourful booklets on medicinal plants, insects and threatened animals in the area are available for purchase at The Pennefather, Appelgrange, Picasso’s, The Elms Gift Shop, Greenwoods Trading or the Morning Market in Haenertsburg. All proceeds are used to clear the hiking trail, remove alien plants and improve the awareness of the grassland.

The trail is 10km long, and usually takes about four hours to complete. It travels through natural grassland and indigenous forest where many endemic and threatened plants occur. A short cut can be taken just before Jan’s Knoll and care must be taken in wet weather as surfaces become slippery. Ensure that you take drinking water. Please be warned that grassland fires can be disastrous in this area. Consequently smoking and the lighting of fires are strictly prohibited.
Botanist Pieter Winter has compiled a list of over 630 plants in this area. Blue Swallows, Methuen’s Dwarf Gecko and the Wolkberg Zulu Butterfly have been glimpsed along the trail. Hikers are afforded a view of the Wolkberg Wilderness area, Ebenezer Dam and the Iron Crown, and can enjoy a snack at any one of three cosy picnic spots. Two natural springs and a brook are also to be seen en route, along with some rhino rubbing rocks. One can also “hug” one of the oldest rock formations in the world along the trail as boulders of greenstone, dating back to 3 200 million years old are common.

Woodbush Drive
This 14km dirt road is the best forest birding area in the Limpopo Province, if not the country. The Woodbush Forest Drive winds through pristine afro-montane forests, down into semi-deciduous mixed forest along the lower sections of the drive. Cape Parrot, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Orange Ground-Thrush, Brown Scrub-Robin, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher are simply a few of the specials to be seen on this road. Also look out for African Cuckoo Hawk, Crowned Eagle and African Goshawk. Towards the bottom of the Forest Drive, where the telephone lines cross the road, look out for Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, which has been sighted there on a few occasions. The beautiful Debengeni Waterfalls are also accessible from this road. (see the Debengeni Falls site description). A high-clearance vehicle is recommended and a 4-wheel drive vehicle would be needed in wet weather. Directions: To reach Woodbush Forest Drive, take the R71 from Polokwane past Haenertsburg. About 2km past the Magoebaskloof Hotel, turn to the left onto the gravel road to Houtbosdorp/Woodbush. After 2.5km take the right fork to the Woodbush Forest Reserve, which passes through stone gateposts. 200 metres after passing the hikers´ huts (2.1km past the previous junction), turn right onto the Woodbush Forest Drive. This road can be birded for about 13km. There are two forks along this road: at the first, stay left and at the second, take the right fork.

Debengeni Falls
This spectacular waterfall is a popular picnic site for locals and visitors to the area. Grey Wagtail has been sighted here for three years running (2002 to 2004). Even if this special is not there, it is worth visiting the Debengeni Falls, to see Mountain Wagtail and other forest birds. After turning off onto the dirt road from the R71, keep a lookout for Red-backed Mannikin, African Firefinch and Sweet Waxbill on the road verges. After about 100m you will cross a small stream; when the water levels are high this is a good spot for Half-collared Kingfisher and African Finfoot. On the 3km drive up to the falls look out for Tambourine and Lemon Dove, Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and Yellow-streaked Greenbul in the forests. Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk breed in the vicinity of the falls and Buff-spotted Flufftail and Scaly-throated Honeyguide are often heard calling in the area. There are picnic facilities and short walking trails along the river. A note of caution: below the falls, the large smooth rock surfaces can be dangerous to walk on, particularly when they are wet. There is an entrance fee in the region of R20/person. Directions: If travelling in an easterly direction on the R71, the turnoff to the falls and the Woodbush forest drive is on the left, 12km from the Magoebaskloof Hotel. The entrance point to the falls is a further 3 km up the dirt road.

Kudu´s Valley
This spectacular 30 km dirt road between Houtbosdorp and Mooketsi drops down over the escarpment through bush veld and riverine habitats. On this road, you will descend about 1000 metres and be treated to fantastic views and an interesting mix of habitats. Verreaux´s, Crowned and Long-crested Eagle, Lanner Falcon as well as Horus, Alpine and African Black Swift are often sighted soaring over the valley. The exposed granite boulders along the slopes near the top of the route are home to Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Olive Bush-Shrike, Shelley´s Francolin and Lazy Cisticola. The lower end of the pass has more riverine and tropical bush veld areas in which African Green-Pigeon, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Purple-crested Turaco, Green-capped Eremomela and White-throated Robin-Chat can be seen. Look out for African Fish Eagle, Great Egret, Purple Heron and various Indigobird and Firefinch species around the farm dams near the bottom of the route. Directions: From Polokwane follow the R71 and after approximately 20 km´s, take the slip way to the left at the first traffic light to the University of Limpopo. Continue on this road past Mankweng and then past the University for 27kms until the tar road ends. Start birding here: follow the dirt road down the escarpment to Mooketsi. If travelling from Polokwane on the R81, 19km after Munnik you will reach Mooketsi, continue past the filling station and shop towards Duiwelskloof/Modjadjiskloof and immediately after crossing the bridge, turn right to Houtbosdorp on the Kudu´s Valley dirt road. If you are coming from the Duiwelskloof/Modjadjiskloof direction then you will turn left to Houtbosdorp, just before Mooketsi and the bridge.

Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge
This Birdlife-SA accredited ´Birder-friendly establishment´ is situated on a 422-hectare farm, which straddles the Woodbush forest and the Bush veld habitats on the Northern Drakensburg escarpment. Kurisa Moya boasts excellent birding on site, including 7 species of Robin including White-starred and Chorister. Most notable are 5 Bush-Shrikes, with Black-fronted heading up the list. In this spectacular indigenous forest, other specials include the Narina Trogon, Green Twinspot, Grey Cuckooshrike, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and Yellow-streaked Greenbul. The Bushveld areas have a range of cisticolas and warblers and the montane area is home to Gurney´s Sugarbird. Raptors include Rufous-chested and Black Sparrowhawk. Eight self-guided trails take birders through all five habitats and David Letsoalo, resident Birdlife-SA accredited guide, takes walks on the farm or excursions to Bat Hawk and Cape Parrot sites. Lisa, Martus and accredited bird guide David Letsoalo are experienced birders, and can provide comprehensive bird lists and early catering. Accommodation consists of two stilted log cabins in the indigenous forest; a luxury farmhouse for groups or a stone cottage with views that take your breath away. Camping is also an option and day visitors are welcome by prior arrangement. The lodge also offers massages, fly-fishing lessons, abseiling and sunset 4x4 drives. This electricity-free eco-lodge ensures privacy and a great birding experience.

Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve
This reserve on the escarpment of the Drakensberg, between Tzaneen and the Able Erasmus pass, has spectacular forest and rolling grasslands. There are historical records of Blue Swallows in the grassland, and this is a good site to see Black Saw-wing Swallow and other montane grassland species like Wing-snapping; Croaking and Wailing Cisticola, Denham’s Bustard, Cape Rock Thrush, Buff-Streaked Chat, Broadtailed Warbler and Malachite Sunbird. The forested gorges hold Cape Parrot, Red-capped Robin Chat, White-starred Robin, African Emerald Cuckoo and Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler to mention a few. The Reserve has various cottages that can be rented out and there is also a camp site.